Could you live with an electric car? The pros and cons of owning an EV today
If the experts and the Government are to be believed, the UK is getting ready for an electric vehicle (EV) revolution. Improvements in the battery range of electric cars, lower list prices and the expansion of the charging network mean that 2017 is the best year yet to buy an EV. However, there are still plenty of obstacles to running a pure EV. So we've compiled this guide to see if an EV is the right choice for you.
The history of the EV dates back to the creation of the motor car at the start of the 20th Century. However, the internal combustion engine soon took a lead in powering personal transport, and the EV became a niche choice for many decades, seen powering a few oddball city car concepts over the years, and of course the good old milk float.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and electricity is gaining momentum as a mainstream power source for cars, vans and trucks of all sizes. That's because regional legislation is making it harder for car makers to meet ever-stricter emissions targets with pure petrol or diesel models alone. As a result, manufacturers are looking at alternative fuel sources, with the aim to reduce harmful exhaust emissions while still delivering the kind of all-round performance and range capability that car buyers have become accustomed to from internal combustion engines.
Pure electric cars still only make up a small percentage of vehicles sold in the UK in 2017 - although it has risen from one to two per cent in the past two years. The rise can be attributed to the increased number of plug-in hybrids that are now on sale. These models feature electric drive and an internal combustion engine, so can't claim to deliver zero emissions like a pure EV, but they are a useful interim solution that deliver the kind of driving range buyers expect, but with the chance to drive in zero emissions electric mode when the the battery is fully charged.
Another addition to the market - but an even more niche one than an EV - is a hydrogen-powered vehicle. These models are nearly as clean as EVs, because they use a hydrogen fuel cell to power an electric motor, and the only byproduct is water. Hydrogen cars are as quick to fill as conventional cars, and they have a range that's similar, too, but the sheer lack of refuelling stations and expensive cost of these cars means they have very limited appeal.
But the question we're trying to answer here is: can an EV fit into your life? We weigh up the pros and cons of zero emissions driving so you can decide if an electric car is the right car for you.
Electric cars: the benefits
The big attraction of an EV is the fact you are doing mile after mile of emissions-free driving. When you're on the move, the EV system is a 'closed loop', meaning that the battery drives the electric motor and powers all of the on-board electrics, but doesn't produce any waste material.
The only time an EV pollutes other than when you finally scrap it is when it's being charged, and even then the emissions are traced back through the National Grid to the power source. If that happens to be a renewable source (solar panels/wind farm/wave power), then you could genuinely be contributing to lower harmful emissions into the environment. Even if power is sourced from nuclear, gas or coal sources, the levels produced for charging your car will be a mere fraction of the power station's overall pollution output.
While electric cars are comparatively expensive when compared to similarly sized petrol and diesel cars, there are plenty of incentives to get you behind the wheel. Chief among these is the Government's Plug-In Car Grant (PICG). The PICG used to be £5,000 for every low-emissions vehicle, but today there are different discounts according to what you want to buy.
For pure electric cars, it's £4,500, while plug-in hybrid cars have a £2,500 discount. Electric motorcycles and scooters have a £1,500 discount, while vans and commercial vehicles with emissions below 75g/km can have up to £8,000 discounted from their list price. If you're looking at a plug-in hybrid that costs more than £60,000 (Audi Q7 etron, BMW i8, etc) there are no discounts available, the reasoning being that if you're looking at a car this expensive, you don't need a discount to encourage you to buy one.
On top of this, many car makers offer favourable finance rates on EVs to encourage you to take the plunge. Zero per cent finance, separate battery hire and free wallbox charger installations are all available to help you on your way to the electric driving experience.
Once you've bought an EV, the day-to-day running costs are significantly lower than they are for a petrol or diesel model. It's common for an EV to be charged overnight ready for a day's use, so you will be using electricity at a lower unit rate than you would during the day. It's estimated that to fully charge an EV at home will cost around £1.50, which is significantly less than it will cost to fill a car to cover a similar mileage. This cost will vary depending on how and where you charge, just like filling a petrol car at different fuel stations, but it will still be over a tenth of what you would pay for petrol or diesel.
If you're buying privately, then an EV costing less than £40,000 qualifies for free road tax. Cars over that price cost £340 a year in road tax for the first five years, but after that they are also road tax exempt.
In previous years, business users paid zero Benefit In Kind (BIK) company car tax on EVs But as these cars have gained in popularity, the Treasury has added BIK tax to their cost. However, the rates are very favourable, and the PICG still applies to company cars.
EVs have a 9 per cent BIK rate for the 2017/18 tax year, rising to 13 per cent for 2018/19 and 16 per cent for 2019/2020. In comparison, a petrol car will have rates of 17, 19 and 22 per cent respectively, while diesels are 3 per cent higher than petrol across the board.
That means somebody using the UK's cheapest electric car, the Renault Zoe Expression, will have to pay 20 per cent company car tax of around £340 in 2017/18, which is around half what you'd pay for a similarly priced petrol-powered Ford Fiesta, while a diesel Fiesta is around £400 more expensive per year.
It’s also worth remembering that pure EVs are exempt from the London Congestion Charge and it’s likely that other cities may introduce similar schemes in years to come.
As an electric motor only makes a faint whirring noise, cabin comfort is a major EV forte. You only really have to contend with tyre, wind and road noise on the move, and if you're around town all three of these will be pretty minimal. In fact, EVs are so quiet that some makers are fitting sound generators to ensure pedestrians and other road users are aware of their presence when driving.
Many EVs are designed to be comfortable around town, so while the suspension needs to be firm to carry the weight of the batteries, there's a degree of comfort to the ride that complements the lack of noise. And because the batteries are normally mounted low in the car, and the electric motor takes up less space than an engine, the passenger compartment will offer more space than a similarly sized petrol car.
Thanks to the instant torque delivery of an electric motor, most EVs feel surprisingly quick away from the lights. Simply press the accelerator, and the car will sprint forward on a wave of torque. Most EVs will run out of steam once you're up to the speed limit - and the driving range will take a hit, too - but cars like the Tesla Model S can deliver sub-3 second 0-60 times in their most powerful guises.
Electric cars: the drawbacks
The biggest drawback to owning an electric car is having to charge it up. Every EV on sale is available with a three-pin domestic plug so that you can charge it via the mains, while many firms offer a fast-charging wallbox for free when you buy an EV. The wallbox will be connected directly to your mains power supply, so it can charge an EV at a higher rate than the supply that's fed to your home.
Of course, to do this you need somewhere to park your car that's close to an electrical supply. Research shows that the majority of domestic garages are hardly ever used to park a car, while many people won't have off-street parking as part of their property, especially in built-up areas. Add in the fact that around 40 per cent of people live in rented accommodation - limiting the ability to fit fast-charging points - while around 20 per cent of the population live in flats, making it even tougher to fit a domestic charging point - and you have a big EV issue.
Car makers are doing their bit to help with EV charging. Tesla now has a network of Supercharger stations across the UK that offers fast-charging, although it's only for Tesla models. Elsewhere, Nissan and Renault EV dealerships offer fast-charging for EV owners on-site, although that only really helps if you happen to be near one of these sites, which are usually on industrial estates on the outskirts of major cities.
The other option is to sign up to a charging scheme, such as Polar EV Network, Ecotricity or Pod Point. For a monthly fee, this gives you access to charging points and dedicated parking bays - on-street and multi-storey - across the UK. You'll find a lot of these located in major cities - London nearly has as many charging points as the rest of the country combined, but there are plenty to be found in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Bristol - while some firms have branched out to add charging points at supermarkets and at motorway service stations.
Drivers have become used to the habit of simply filling a car up with fuel as and when needed. However, you can't apply the same regime to an EV. If you do, you'll be suffering from extra-long journeys as you stop to charge your EV up over a prolonged period. In this regard it's more the perception of EVs that people have that needs to change, rather than the cars themselves.
As an EV is a new experience, it requires you to get into a new habit, and it's one that you might be familiar with if you own a smartphone. Basically, it involves some forward planning, and as long as you keep your EV plugged in every time you're parked, especially overnight, it should have enough battery life to get you to your destination.
Another limiting factor that will stop many people from driving a pure EV is range anxiety - the fear that you either won't get to your destination without having to charge your car up, or that you won't be able to charge your car when you get there.
Current form means that a modern EV has a workable range of around 120-150 miles, but car makers are pinning hopes on the next-generation of EVs being able to cover 300 miles between charges.
In reality, if you're able to plug an EV in every time you park, then range anxiety shouldn't be an issue. The average driving commute in the UK is around 10-15 miles, so any EV is more than capable of covering the journey to work and back without needing to be charged up. Of course, the bigger issue is if you're doing longer journeys, although some makers such as BMW offer schemes that allow you to hire a conventional petrol-powered model if you need one for a big trip. And if you are concerned about electric range, then the latest plug-in hybrids are worth looking at instead.
Electric cars are still relatively expensive, carrying a premium of around £10k over an equivalently sized petrol or diesel powered car. At least the PICG helps cut costs a bit, especially for the cheaper models on sale, but they're still relatively expensive when you consider their more limited range.
There's also a price to pay when it comes to sell an EV on. Depreciation takes a massive hit on electric cars, with even the most desirable EVs, such as the BMW i3, losing half their already high list price when it comes to sell-on time.
There's no escaping that the heavy batteries of an EV do dull the driving experience somewhat. In addition, the lack of engine noise from the electric motor takes away some of the driving thrill for people who like to get involved in what they're driving. In addition, the direct drive and lack of gearbox also detracts from the driving fun, so enthusiasts still feel rather numb at the thought of EV driving.
Have you considered owning an EV or do you own one already? Tell us about it in the comments section below...
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July 26, 2017 at 12:09PM